"Long Before Luther", by Nathan Busenitz (book review)

Nathan Busenitz, in "Long Before Luther", seeks to answer the question, "Did the early church teach justification by faith, or was it a 16th-century invention of the Reformers?" 

Throughout 11 chapters and 164 pages, Busenitz makes it very clear that "examples abound of authors who used the language of 'faith alone' to describe salvation'" (p.161).  Not only did they describe salvation as such, but authors also wrote of the distinction between justification and sanctification, as well as the "Great Exchange": the righteousness of Christ imputed upon the sinner, and the sins of the sinner imputed upon Christ.

Regardless of whether the early church fathers wrote as they did, the Reformers' first appeal was to scripture, the final authority of all matters of faith and doctrine.  There, they drew upon Jesus and Paul, finding full assurance that the Scriptures taught justification by faith.  One such example to support their theology looked like the thief on the cross, who found justification without performing a single work.

One of the neatest chapters was the appendix, "Voices From History", where Busenitz quotes from several church fathers, tracing them through the centuries, beginning with Jesus, Peter, Paul, and John.  The list also includes Clement of Rome and Polycarp (1st and 2nd centuries) through the years to Jerome and Augustine (4th century), Julian of Toledo (7th century), and Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century), etc.  Each century is represented, and it is truly interesting to see how opponents of sola fide can claim the church fathers never taught such a thing.

But, as Busenitz shows, sola fide has been taught long before Luther.

RATING: I give "Long Before Luther" 4 out of 5 stars.  It was very good...very informative...but not a page-turner.  There was a lot of redundancy, but I suppose the redundancy was necessary since so many church fathers taught sola fide.  It's also good to be repeatedly reminded of the doctrine so that different wordings help it sink in.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers (MP Newsroom) in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide an unbiased review of it.


"Life in Community", by Dustin Willis (book review)

I’m not exactly sure where I want to begin praising this book.  Do I begin by pointing out all the areas where I’m challenged to change my way of thinking about how we “do community” in the church today?  Or do I begin by saying, “Wow, I sure could have used this several years ago!”?

Dustin Willis, who serves with the North American Mission Board, challenges readers to put away the old notions that a “small group” or a “community group” is something we do, rather than becoming a way of life for its members.  While it may be “easy” to clock in once a week and say hello to the small group members, add a few tidbits of insight in that week’s Bible study, and return home, this is not what God intended for “community”. 

Instead, we are to be a group who serves each other, cares for each other, loves each other, forgives each other, confesses sin to each other, and laughs and cries with each other.  Every person alive wants desperately to belong to something. But Christians have the greatest gift that unites us into a bond stronger than any family tie: the gospel of Jesus Christ.  As sinners forgiven by God in Jesus Christ, we not only become God’s sons and daughters, but we become brothers and sisters with other redeemed sinners.

REFLECTIONS: And it is in that light that we ought to pursue helping others grow.  We do this by reaching beyond ourselves, and walking and fighting with others.  How can we do this?

One way is by committing to being community, rather than simply doing community.  Commitment is difficult; growth requires hard work; community life gets messy.  Instead, we would do well to resolve in our hearts and minds that we are committed to the difficult, messy work of carrying others’ burdens not only with them, but sometimes even for them.

A second way we can pursue helping others grow is by helping them discern where they’re gifted, and then encouraging them to put their gift(s) to use for the body of Christ.  Sometimes we like to fill out online surveys to determine where we are gifted, but why don’t we lean other the insights of others to help us pinpoint those gifts more accurately?

A third way is in hospitality.  (This one hurt me.)  Dustin briefly breaks down the differences between simply being a host/entertainer and being hospitable.  An entertainer wants to be the center of attention; one who is hospitable wants to offer others a place of comfort and peace.  Piggy-backing this idea is opening our homes and resources to others.  Our houses ought not simply be places of refuge for our families to “get away” from the world around us, but to draw people into an atmosphere where they can witness what a family changed by the gospel looks like.  As I said, this one touched me deeply because it’s often easy to clean the house, make a nice meal, and feel like we have to be “doing” something.  Rather than simply being together under the banner of the Cross.

CONTENTS: This book is a rather quick read, but it packs a big punch.  It’s 170 pages long, broken into 3 parts (12 chapters), contains a small group study guide, as well as practical helps for leading a group better.

RATING: I give Life in Community 4 out of 5 stars.  I truly enjoyed it, and was inspired by it to think and life differently.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Moody Press in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of this title.

Dustin Willis


"On Pastoring", by H.B. Charles (book review)

As I type this review, I’m just five years away from retirement…and I’m only 42 years old.  As expected, I have been in much prayer about what will follow.  A sense of deep longing/desire (some might call it a “calling”) has been churning within me for several years to enter pastoral ministry.  Along with speaking with other godly men about this, I decided to read some books pertaining to ministry, how to discern if this is a call or simply a fanciful dream, etc…which is I why I selected “On Pastoring” for review.  And I’m thankful I picked this up! 

The book wasn’t overly theological or scholastic, as it wasn’t much of an exposition of scripture about the role and responsibilities of pastors.  However, it was saturated in experience and practicality.  In just 30 brief chapters spanning 189 short pages, H.B. Charles Jr., pastor-teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, opens up about many of the ins-and-outs, ups-and-downs, good-and-bad about pastoring…from personal preparation to sermon preparation, from ministering during meetings to godly leadership.  Obviously, many suggestions he made might not suit some, while other insights may very well bless the reader.

While it appeared the intent of the book was to challenge and encourage pastors (by use of such phrases as, “we must…”), I found the book to be helpful as a way of gaining insight to help determine if this was a pursuit for which I am/would be prepared and suitable.  I found myself asking, “Would I be able to do this-or-that?” and “Could I be committed to such-and-such?”

I certainly was challenged and encouraged by insights.  As a result, I long even more-so to continue this pursuit…in spite of its various challenges.  I guess time will only tell what the Lord has in store.

Rating: I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from  Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Transforming Grace", by Jerry Bridges (book review)

There are a handful of books I consider "must- reads" for Christians. There are also some books I consider must-re-reads. And there are some authors and teachers I consider true gifts of God to Christians. This book, "Transforming Grace", and its author, Jerry Bridges fit all three categories mentioned. I have read two of Bridges' other books, and was greatly helped by them. He is solid in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and is a trustworthy writer who is easy to comprehend.

I knew from the Introduction and Chapter 1 that I absolutely needed this book by this beloved saint. I realized from the early pages that I was caught in the "performance trap", where I was convinced I've been saved by God's grace, but that I now needed to - in an almost legalistic way - perform in a way to convince God to keep me.

I knew it was a wrong belief of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but I hadn't convinced myself to abandon this pernicious lie. Thankfully, brother Bridges revealed not only my need to abandon the performance trap, but to recognize that every aspect of my life is utterly dependent on God's outpouring of grace on me.

I suspect I'm not alone in this realization, because this printed version comes equipped with a full-length discussion guide at the end, which is nearly a short book itself! It is apparent that many in the body of Christ are impacted by this lie that we need to perform in order to merit God's continued grace and are in need of the gospel's correction.

If you're planning to buy another book full off fluff, and ponies and rainbows, I challenge you to abandon that pursuit and pick this one instead. You will not only not regret your choice, but you will be transformed.... by God's grace alone.

Rating: Undoubtedly 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the Tyndale Blogging Network. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


The Goodness and Faithfulness of God

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

Fifteen years ago, my wife and I moved into a house with 10 acres of wooded property.  The house was already equipped with an indoor wood burner for heating.  Thankfully, wood was already stacked perfectly in rows on pallets between two sets of trees.  I didn’t have to worry about cutting any wood that winter, so the thought didn’t hit me until winter was finished.

Where am I going to get enough wood to last us a lifetime at this house?  Ten acres can be enough to supply all that, can it?

I worried.  A great deal, I worried.  It kept me awake many nights, to be honest.   I questioned God’s goodness and ability to provide for me and my family.

A couple years later, a logging company asked if they could survey our property.  Of course, I declined, citing only having 10 acres to supply a lifetime of wood.  The man told me plainly, “If you cut the right trees down, 5 acres will last you a lifetime.”

I doubted him.  But he was polite, so I filed the comment into the storehouses of my memory.

As I write this 15 years later, we recently paid to have 12 very large trees cut down that posed potential threats to our house if they were ever to fall the wrong direction.  As a result, I have more wood cut into logs today than I can ever use over the next three years.  And there are still more felled trees that are yet to be “chunked”.

I have so much wood that my chainsaw is literally fatiguing.  I’ve taken it in at the beginning of spring for a tune-up…and it needs another one!  I have so much wood, that it’s just sitting there, waiting for a chainsaw and a pallet (or two or three…or 20) on which to stack it all!

All this said: God has not only been faithful to my family, but He has been over abundantly faithful to provide for my family.  Because He is good and He is gracious.  I didn’t do anything to earn His favor; God just does it because He is good.

God has blessed my children with full stomachs, warm clothes on their bodies, and good shoes on their feet as they travel off to school.

God has bless my wife with the ability, skill, and patience to be a house manager (aka: stay-at-home mom) without fear of not being able to pay the bills.

God has bless me with a wonderful employer and career that I enjoy going to each work day.

My doubts, fears, and worries often overtake my mind, as it shifts like the wind-blown desert sand. But God’s goodness and faithfulness are always steadfast.  Yet, even if God chose to withhold material and temporal blessings from me and my family, I still know that I could trust God’s hand because He is good, and He works for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).


Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World”, by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner (book review)

“Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World” is a tidy book written by Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and Professor of Biblical Theology (1997); Associate Dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Dr. Schreiner is a phenomenal Bible scholar who has contributed greatly to various theological studies.  His teaching and writing is biblically solid and trustworthy.

The purpose of the book is to uncover the six biblical covenants as they unfold through scripture’s timeline.  Those six covenants are: (1) The Covenant of Creation, (2) The Covenant with Noah, (3) The Covenant with Abraham, (4) The Covenant with Israel, (5) The Covenant with David, and finally, (6) The New Covenant.

Each of the six covenants and several of their dynamics were handled briefly and simply.  When I say simply, I do not necessarily mean “easy”.  While explained well, I still needed to read slowly and carefully in order to comprehend what Dr. Schreiner was saying.  Thankfully, Dr. Schreiner sums up his chapters very succinctly in each chapter’s conclusion.  While the chapters provide much greater detail, the concluding summaries serve well to provide “fly-by” overviews for quicker reference.

Rating: While I found the book rather dry, I did learn greatly from it.  It just didn’t capture my attention as a fantastic book that I could recommend as a must-read.  I didn’t have that craving to continue reading it as though it was a page-turner.  For that, I give this book just 4 stars.

Disclaimer: I received the digital version of this book free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.


"Paul the Apostle", by Robert E. Picirilli (book review)

“Paul the Apostle” took quite a long time for me to review, and it was not for lack of interest in it.  Instead, there was so much information to digest, cross-reference, and make notations of the information in my Bible margins.  Wow, what a tremendous resource this book proved to be!  There are so many positives to this book, so I’ll limit it to just a handful.

First, Picirilli provided excellent historical and cultural insight into the Apostle Paul’s life, from his pre-conversion days up to his martyrdom.  So much of what he revealed about Paul helps to shed light on the context of scripture and his ministry.

Second, Picirilli made good use of breaks to place "insert" articles within the chapter bodies.  I’ve read numerous books where side-bar comments and insert articles appear at some of the most inopportune times, causing me to lose focus on the paragraph or thought being read.  But Picirilli inserted “insert” articles at logical places so that the reader could continue reading without having to skip around and return to the storyline somewhere else.  These insert articles provide various nuances that add to the chapter’s information, but may or may not have necessarily directly applied to the particular text.  They were simply extra insights.  For instance, one good insert explained what political and military structures looked like during Paul's time, but that insert was not the primary purpose of the chapter.  The insert articles could be skipped, if the reader desired, but their information added greatly to the rest of the text.

Third, a feature I liked in this book pertained to the brief handling of each of the Pauline epistles as they likely would have been written within the chronology of the unfolding storyline of the book of Acts.  When handled, Picirilli treated Paul's epistles with a relatively quick, fly-by fashion, but with sufficient detail to explain themes and purposes of those letters.  However, each epistle’s outline and general themes were provided.  These would be phenomenal tools for digging deeper into the epistles in personal or group Bible study.

Finally, as I suggest for any book labeled and sold as “Christian”, it is always good to have a Bible open as you read this one.  First, it’s crucial that Christians always be reading books biblically and critically, guarding against erroneous teaching.  Second, have a Bible on hand is helpful for adding notes and cross-references in the margins.

While this book contained such a deep level of information about the Apostle Paul’s life, Picirilli made it easy to read and comprehend.  This book would probably be a bit too much for a new / young believer, but would be greatly helpful for the more mature.

RATING: I give this book 5 out of 5 stars for its depth, insight, and usefulness.

DISCLAIMER: I received “Paul the Apostle” free of charge from Moody Press in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine.